Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett threw each other’s thorns ahead of the final, and Cleary now admits to being a super coach.
Towards the NRL Grand Final, Ivan Cleary says he will resist the temptation to engage in another language war with Wayne Bennett, who believes he is “probably the best coach of all time.”
Cleary’s Penrith Panthers beat Melbourne Storm four points on Saturday afternoon to book a grand final date with Bennett’s South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Panthers and Rabitos coaches threw each other into the qualifying finals of their team, which South won in great turmoil.
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The story began when Cleary expressed concern to the Panthers playmaker and the defender who was unfairly targeting his son Nathan.
Bennett countered by accusing the Panthers of performing illegal block movements. Cleary then argued that South Sydney’s poor defensive discipline was due to a biased penalty count in a side round 23 clash, rather than oversight from the referee.
Although Cleary’s Panthers lost the first week of the playoffs, they ignored the odds to qualify for the deciding factor, but the coach wouldn’t throw a gauntlet the following week. Moreover, Cleary even denies any involvement with Bennett in the first place.
“I wasn’t involved with Wayne, but I’m not going to do that (before the Grand Final),” Cleary said.
Former Warriors and Tigers bosses appreciated Bennett and said they rejected the proposal that the war of words would distract players for the first finals of both sides.
“Wayne is certainly probably the best coach I’ve ever had,” he said.
“Do what you’re good at this week and stay in the background.”
The Panthers suffered a fourth defeat in 2021 and a first defeat with Nathan Cleary in the park when they met South in the first week of the playoffs.
Although it was a tough battle, Rabitos beat the Panthers to no points in the second half and beat Parramatta by two points in the semi-finals.
Cleary said his side is now familiar with the dangers of underestimating the Cardinal and Myrtle men.
“I think both teams know each other pretty well,” he said.
“It’s who will be the best team of the day.
“I feel like I didn’t do my best in the first week. South’s credit is that they were too good that night. Next week we’ll see who’s the better team.”